I went on a two-day ski tour last week! Alright then, I hear you say, what’s so great about that?! Well, it was the first time I’ve done a two day ski tour, and I loved it.
Last season I did a couple of day tours, consisting of a morning of ascent and then descending back off on what was relatively uninteresting terrain. So last week’s plan had quite a few new facets compared to what I’d done previously: an overnight stay in a mountain refuge near the Cormet d’Arêches in the French Alps, a couple of cols (mountain passes) to cross, and a much more interesting descent. Add into the mix the fact that I devised the route myself and that we were passing a second refuge for lunch on the second day, and the scene was set for a whole bunch of new experiences.
Staying in a French mountain refuge in winter is like going bothying in the Lake District or Scotland, only better. There are cooking facilities, a huge stack of dry fire wood, chairs to sit on and even a cupboard full of Crocs so you needn’t stomp around in your ski boots making a racket and a mess all over the floor! The sleeping arrangements aren’t too bad either – mattresses and blankets – all you need is your sleeping bag liner and your ear plugs just in case there’s one of those dreaded snorers in your room!
My friend Julia and I toured up during the early afternoon on day 1, arriving just in time to enjoy a gin and tonic before the sun disappeared behind the mountain – although the clouds were trying to hide the sun from us prematurely too! Of course we’d had to carry this refreshing delight up with us, but it was worth it.
We passed a good evening practicing our french on a young Parisien who was exploring from the refuge each day and waiting for the arrival of a friend the following day. We managed a reasonable night’s sleep, despite the efforts of the Dutch chap who’s friends had obviously banished him from their room to keep us awake with his snoring. Next morning it felt like the trip was really beginning as we left behind the familiar landscape around the refuge.
The weather was stunning and it was just superb to be out in the mountains with no one else around. We experienced a few challenges quite early on – a very undulating traverse, and crossing some avalanche debris – much easier to say than it was to do! After that it really was just the most perfect day. I was enjoying the ascent much more than ever before, loving seeing the winter version of mountains I’ve seen in summer, and comparing the terrain with the map – it’s cool to match up what you see with what the map says and invaluable in enhancing your navigational skills.
Around lunchtime we reached our second refuge of the trip, Refuge de Presset. This refuge was completely rebuilt 3 years ago and is more like an up-market youth hostel than a mountain refuge. One day I’m going to have to go and stay there, it was so nice! The two hostesses (called guardiennes in french) were very welcoming and cooked us a fantastic omelette consisting of the local speciality cheese Beaufort, bacon, onions and potatoes. YUM! The view was just incredible, we couldn’t believe what a fantastic spot we had for lunch.
It was so sheltered and warm on the sun terrace that we really didn’t want to leave, but it was time to find out whether the descent consisted of a freeze-thaw impossible-to-turn-in ice crust, or soft spring conditions.. I don’t think anyone likes the former type of skiing, and I for one was certainly a little tentative in the first few turns wondering what it was going to be like. To our delight, the sun had been busy softening things up whilst we were enjoying lunch and we had excellent spring conditions for almost all of the 1000m descent. It was so much fun! We couldn’t get the grins off our faces and even the final part returning back to the van which involved quite a lot of “combative skiing”, as Julia put it, stepping over bare patches and poling, couldn’t induce a sense of humour failure.
I can’t wait for the next tour into new territory, and I definitely can’t wait for the next overnighter! It’s been a bit greyer here lately and the warmer temperatures are not being too kind to the snow on the southern aspects so how much more I’ll get to do I don’t know, but I think the memory of this trip’s going to carry me through. I thoroughly enjoyed myself!
If you’re a budding ski tourer like me and you’ve not done a two-dayer yet, you definitely should! I’m quite sure that you’ll love it.